Navigating the Boston Public Schools System


Boston native Alda Witherspoon is a product of the public schools. Growing up in Codman Square in the ’60s and ’70s, she was sent to a magnet school (a public school with a specialized curriculum), setting her on the path that led her to become a classically trained singer working in Los Angeles. But a short visit home turned into a permanent return. “Never come back to Boston, because you get stuck,” she says with a laugh.

Today, Witherspoon works for the city as director of public and private partnerships in the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism, and Special Events. Though she is a Baptist, she and her partner, Terell Harris, have chosen to send their 13-year-old son, Auston, to Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy — a pre-K-through-8 program with four campuses around Mattapan and Dorchester.

She’s not alone. According to Russ Wilson, regional director of Pope John Paul II, nearly 35 percent of the school’s students come from non-Catholic families. “They love the safety, the extracurriculars, the academics, and even the exposure to the faith,” he says. They also like the price, which starts at $6,000, with nearly 70 percent of families receiving some form of financial aid.

For many non-Catholic families choosing Catholic school, the religious aspect takes some getting used to. Panna and Raj Patel live in Watertown and send their five-year-old daughter to a Catholic school near Panna’s office in Cambridge. “At first, both of us were not happy with the idea of Thursday-morning Mass, but it is what it is,” Panna says. “To counteract this, we decided to send my daughter to Indian Hinduism school for two hours on Sundays.”

As for Alda Witherspoon, “I always wanted to have Auston in a religion-based school,” she says. “It’s just the sensibility of our family. But I have a broad view of religion. I think God is God is God, so it doesn’t matter to me in terms of the nuances of a doctrine. I just like the nurturing environment.”

  • Julie

    Thanks for this article. I just wanted to clarify a couple of points. Massachusetts parents have the right to educate their children outside of the school system. Cities and towns do not “allow” us to do so. Although this family consults the state curriculum guidelines, parents are not required to follow any curriculum. Another good resource for current or potential home educators is Advocates for Home Education in
    Massachusatts (AHEM).

  • justin

    When all of your children are 5 and under, you are not homeschooling, you are being a parent.

  • Kerry

    I think the point of the article was to demonstrate the options city parents have as their kids reach kindergarten age. That is, stay in the city or leave, and if they want to stay how they can make it work.

  • Dima Bilan

    I’m so frustrated at this stupid system I’m (we)
    are ready to move out of the state, maybe out of the USA. There is nothing fun about the way we live, racing from one activity to another, put on wait lists and then filling out a
    folder of forms and dishing out loads of money when my job is always in jeopardy.
    You can have it.